World

South Africa Withdraws Award to Ex-Prez

Former Guyanese President Forbes Burnham
Former Guyanese President Forbes Burnham

by Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

This week, Guyana’s main opposition party blasted the South African government for withdrawing a post-Apartheid award to a former Guyana president, saying the Caribbean nation did more than any in the hemisphere to fight white racism, including allowing Cuban planes with heavily armed troops to refuel there in the dead of night on their way to southern Africa.

Former Vice President Robert Corbin, an executive member of the People’s National Congress (PNC), which governed the country for 28 years until losing in 1992, called last week’s decision by the government in Pretoria to “indefinitely postpone” awarding the Order of the Companion of O.R Tambo to late Guyana President Forbes Burnham an insult, saying it should have been given to him decades ago.

“We did not beg for it. The fact that he is only now being recognized for all that he did for the liberation struggle in Southern Africa is in itself an insult, [and it’s insulting to] say it is being withdrawn,” said Corbin, who is the immediate past leader of the PNC.

Corbin said that Burnham’s Canada-based daughter and son-in-law were preparing to travel to Pretoria later this month to receive the award after being invited by authorities when they were told about its postponement because of his alleged involvement with the death of Guyanese academic Walter Rodney in 1980.

Rodney, who had taught in Africa and had authored the respected “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” was killed in a bomb blast in Guyana. Government critics back then had blamed the PNC—charges it has persistently denied.

A clearly angry attorney at law, Corbin argued that “no other leader in the Caribbean or hemisphere would have risked allowing Cuban planes with troops to fight Apartheid to land and refuel in Guyana during the Cold War era. Such was his commitment to the liberation struggle, but he did it and we can release that fact to the world now.”

He said that Burnham had also given Guyana passports and local addresses to hundreds of liberation fighters to allow them to travel undetected internationally and pointed out how the country donated $50,000 a year to the struggle to liberate Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and South Africa). Regardless, the award has been withdrawn.

“His contribution was outstanding and beyond match in the region and hemisphere, but frankly, it is an insult to even offer him the award after all these years,” said Corbin. “I would not have accepted it personally.”

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